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Joint unions statement on call for staff to volunteer to help with mass Covid-19 testing

Latex gloved hand holding a test tube with a positive covid-19 label

One month ago Sussex University staff were asked to answer a poll on cost cutting within the University. This understandably prompted concerns about job security, pay and working conditions, and we are still awaiting an update on the University's financial situation or what cost cutting measures may be implemented. One week ago all staff were asked to volunteer to help with mass Covid-19 testing of students on campus before they travel across the country for the Winter break. It was said that 100 members of staff per day are required to work on coordinating and facilitating mass testing between Monday 30th November and Friday 11th December.

Whilst we are glad that more testing is being made available to our community, and we commend staff who are volunteering to support this public health necessity, there are significant concerns about both the efficacy of these tests and the way in which this request has been delivered, deepening a sense of a Vice Chancellor out of touch with the reality of university working conditions.

Staff are being offered TOIL (Time off in Lieu) to undertake this work, but already so many staff have been working above and beyond their contracts both remotely and in person to provide support and teaching to students in a time of crisis. TOIL taken likely means increased work on the remaining days of the week. Part-time staff will be able to claim overtime, which will be welcomed by many during a period where pay and progression is restricted. However the overtime for these staff is at a basic rate only, and the value of these additional earnings needs to be set against the perceived risk and extra stress of taking on this additional work. There are concerns that the levels of training to be provided will be inadequate and that insufficient human resources will increase the risks involved.

We agree with our Vice Chancellor that now is a time for our community to come together through good will. However we feel we must emphasise that we have come together since March and our reserves of good will are nearing exhaustion. We have found new ways to work, we have come back to campus during a pandemic to support our students and in the past month our community came together in an effort to prevent the redundancies of essential catering staff which was thankfully successful.

We welcome the VC’s recent gesture of granting some additional holiday days over the Christmas period, however for many it is not sufficient to restore the good will that has been eroded over the past year. If our University is to thrive in these difficult times it is vital that our University Executive Group brings the community with them on decisions that they make and that they invest in adequate infrastructure and resources to keep the University community healthy and safe.

Crisis Justice Sussex


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